25 Jul A Reflection on Resilience
I was reflecting on the topic of resilience with all the buzz around deteriorating mental health due to COVID-19. “Resilience” – the ability to get back on one’s feet – is the ‘holy grail’ of mental health. The battle is not lost until one gives up the final time.
But what gives people the ability to get back on their feet? Here are my thoughts on the foundations of resilience:
Hope is a key ingredient to resilience. It is what lifts our eyes from the mud, and allows us to see a future to strive towards. It stirs the heart and keeps it beating. It inspires us to do the impossible. It makes the difference between life and death in the most dreadful situations. When hope is lost, one loses the energy to move.
We need to be careful where we place our hope. That which we hope upon needs to be worthy of holding the weight of our hopes. Otherwise they will collapse too easily and we will find ourselves sorely disappointed.
Hope can be trained. The pursuit of joy enlarges our heart’s capacity for hope. The practice of celebration creates rituals of joy, rhythms of life that lift our eyes skyward. Joy creates wonder, which in turn leads to inspiration, passion, desire and motivation. Creativity opens up endless possibilities for the expression of joy.
Flexibility is another key ingredient to resilience. A rigid hope set upon fixated goals leads to an obsession with the strength of glass: it fractures as soon as something hits it the wrong way.
Flexibility involves the ability to adjust and pivot in response to the present situation. It requires an acceptance of the situation at hand without giving in to despair or hopelessness.
Hope and flexibility work hand-in-hand. Hope is needed to see possibilities in the face of grim realities. But without an open mind, there is no space for hope to create possibility.
Flexibility needs to be practiced. Fear tells us it is safest to avoid dangers than to engage with them. But the more you avoid your fear, the more rigid you become, simply because there less room to move. Rigidity sets us in patterns of deep unhappiness; we can only live fully when we can learn to stay safe in flexibility.
Tenacity is the ability to be determined. It is what gives us the fortitude to persist towards our hopes and goals. Hope with flexibility but no tenacity can lead to wishful but ineffective optimism. You may feel nice, but it goes nowhere.
Even though tenacity is the grit that provides us with the ability to stand up again and again, in itself it is not enough to produce true resilience. Tenacity without flexibility or hope leads to mere survival, a dreary and aimless plodding on for the sake of plodding on.
Discipline helps build tenacity. In a world of instant gratification the art of discipline can be under-appreciated. But without the practice of discipline, the muscle of tenacity atrophies and becomes weak.
RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF COVID-19
I suspect COVID-19 has been all the more difficult because it has revealed that we are not all that resilient as we had hoped. Our hopes have been found wanting; we are stubborn than we thought; and we do not have the tenacity to hold through such prolonged trials. But these difficulties provide a unique opportunity to understand our weaknesses and grow through such experiences. Through this trial, maybe we can grow to be more truly resilient people.
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Thank you to Dr Vincent Lee of Greenslopes Clinic for writing this blog. Dr Lee has developed a special interest in mental health and wellbeing, and has now focussed his practice exclusively to the provision of mental health care. Learn more about Dr Lee here.